Book Mail: All hail the arrival of the new Kopp Sisters book!

With an overflowing bucketful of gratitude to Amy Stewart… I was beyond delighted today to get home from a fairly high stress day of work to find a lovely package of goodies waiting for me!

I’ve signed up for the Kopp Sisters Literary Society, and received this amazing swag, including first and foremost, an ARC of the soon-to-be released Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit. I adore the Kopp Sisters books, which feature some truly awesome female characters based on the historical Constance Kopp and her fierce, funny sisters.

Also in the package, I also found a handful of bookmarks (which I’m ready to share — see the bottom of this post!), a Lady Cop Makes Trouble pencil, a recipe card for “The Midnight” (a signature cocktail), and and introductory letter. Last but not least, the ARC is signed!

Not just by the author, but also by Sheriff Heath, who just happens to be my favorite non-Kopp-sister character in the books, and also a historical figure.

Enough gushing! What’s this book all about, and when will it be released? Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:

Trailblazing Constance’s hard-won job as deputy sheriff is on the line in Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, the fourth installment of Amy Stewart’s Kopp Sisters series.

After a year on the job, New Jersey’s first female deputy sheriff has collared criminals, demanded justice for wronged women, and gained notoriety nationwide for her exploits. But on one stormy night, everything falls apart.

While transporting a woman to an insane asylum, Deputy Kopp discovers something deeply troubling about her story. Before she can investigate, another inmate bound for the asylum breaks free and tries to escape.

In both cases, Constance runs instinctively toward justice. But the fall of 1916 is a high-stakes election year, and any move she makes could jeopardize Sheriff Heath’s future–and her own. Although Constance is not on the ballot, her controversial career makes her the target of political attacks.

With wit and verve, book-club favorite Amy Stewart brilliantly conjures the life and times of the real Constance Kopp to give us this “unforgettable, not-to-be messed-with heroine” (Marie Claire) under fire in Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit.

The publication date is September 11, 2018. Are you ready?

A quick reader’s note: I’m dying to dive in RIGHT NOW… but have a book club book and a nearly-overdue library book to finish first. But keep an eye out, because I plan to read the newest Miss Kopp adventure the second I’m clear of my bookish obligations, and I’ll post a review as soon as I’m done.

Meanwhile, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the Kopp sisters yet, I recommend starting at the beginning of the series. Need convincing? Check out my reviews:

Girl Waits With Gun
Lady Cop Makes Trouble (not reviewed – sorry!)
Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions

PS – The audiobooks are excellent! I adore the narration by Christina Moore, whose voices for Constance, Norma, Fleurette, and Sheriff Heath are just so distinct and full of personality. If you like to read with your ears, these audiobooks are really a treat!

PPS – Ask and ye shall receive! I’ll mail a Kopp Sisters bookmark to the first three people who ask! Be sure to tell me which of the Kopp Sisters books you’ve read and which are on your TBR pile… or if you haven’t read any yet, just assure me that you plan to start!

Cover reveal: Storm Cursed by by Patricia Briggs!

Don’t mind me — I’m just sitting here being quietly blown away by the newly revealed cover for the upcoming Mercy Thompson book!

Storm Cursed is book #11 in this amazing series. The expected publication date is March 5, 2019… which can’t possibly get here soon enough!

Synopsis:

My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic.

And a coyote shapeshifter.

And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack.

Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae.

The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death.

But we are pack, and we have given our word.

We will die to keep it.

I love this series so much! Can’t wait for March to get here… and meanwhile, I’ll be busy re-reading Mercy’s past adventures so I’ll be 100% ready to jump in once this gorgeous books finally lands in my hands.

Book mail highlight: Oxford Illustrated Dictionary of 19th Century Language

I bought myself a wee giftie this week:

Oxford Illustrated Dictionary of 19th Century Language
(published 2018)

After seeing this book mentioned somewhere (on a blog post? I’m thinking maybe via Gail Carriger?), I had to get myself a copy! For readers who delight in 19th century fictional realms, this book promises to be a must-keep-close-by sort of reference book.

Besides an A-to-Z dictionary format, there are also multi-page layouts on hot topics such as “Rich and Poor”, “Childhood”, “At Home”, and so much more. It’s all laid out in an easy-to-use alphabetical format, with eye-catching fonts and illustrations.

Oh, I am absolutely going to have a blast with this one!

And hey, you never know when you’ll need to know the definitions of poltroon, clodpole, oleograph, or diablerie.

Self-help or fiction? A look at the “how-to” books on my shelves.

After posting a review earlier today, I noticed that I have quite a few books with “How To” in the title… and none of them are actually self-help books! Yes, they’re all novels… but what if they weren’t?

What if all these books were really meant to be self-help guides? Let’s see how well they live up to their titles:

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (review)
Is it about… exercise routines involving walking? A guide to breaking up? Avoiding boring conversations?
Nope! It’s contemporary fiction about a woman who survives a plane crash, finds her life turned upside down, and ends up discovering all sorts of good things awaiting her, despite her physical and emotional injuries. And it’s just occurred to me that the title is somewhat ironic, since the main character (spoiler!) will never walk again… but she does figuratively walk away from the painful events and the unfulfilling relationship that were holding her back. So, no actual advice about walking or fitness or avoidance, but a nice, romantic read.

 

How to Be Good by Nick Hornby
Is it about… improving your life by becoming a better person? Learning self-control? Overriding rude impulses?
Nope! It’s a funny look at middle-aged marriage, and what happens when one person decides to change their entire way of being, pretty much overnight. Being generous, doing good for others, moving beyond materialism — all worthwhile goals, but in this story, it also makes for a lot of craziness and marital trouble. I didn’t actually learn to be good from this book, but I did get a new viewpoint on the value of communication and consideration in marriage, and how not to screw things up!

 

 

How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman (review)
Is it about… being a domestic goddess? Mastering the fine art of pleasing a man? (Bleah) Learning how to be a supportive partner in an equal and loving relationship between equals? (wouldn’t that be nice?)
Nope! It’s a tense thriller about a woman whose recovered memories bring her to conclude that her entire marriage may be built on lies and deceit. It’s creepy and scary, and quite a good read. But I can’t say I learned anything about being a devoted spouse, unless that means endlessly scrubbing the kitchen, blindly obeying my spouse, and believing it when people tell me I’m mentally ill. No thanks.

 

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (review)
Is it about… performing CPR? Learning First Aid? Getting Red Cross lifeguarding certification?
Nope! It’s a YA novel about grief and families, about a teen whose widowed mother decides to adopt a baby and the pregnant teen who enters their lives. It’s moving and beautifully written — but no actual lifesaving tips are provided!

 

 

 

 

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig (review)
Is it about… clock making? Stopping the aging process? Taking photos to create a family archive? (Okay, that last one is a stretch.)
Nope! It’s about a man who has lived centuries, aging at a fraction of the rate that normal humans do. Really an incredible story about the meaning of life, the search for love, and allowing oneself to connect when any relationship can only end in loss. A must-read. But sadly, no real advice about how to become immortal!

 

 

And my newest addition, which I haven’t read yet — but stay tuned, because I’ll definitely be reading and reviewing this novella during the coming week:

How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger
Is it about… dating advice for the supernatural set?
Sort of! It’s fiction, of course, and tells the story of a young American woman who, after figuring in a scandal, gets sent off to England to marry a very proper British werewolf. So no, it won’t actually help us find an online dating site that might match us with hairy shapeshifters… but it might offer some clues about matchmaking and dealing with scandal. Oh, who am I kidding? It’ll be fun, and it’s by Gail Carriger, so it’ll be worth reading even without providing self-help guidance.

 

 

What “How To” books are on your fiction shelves? Do they live up to the title?

Please share your thoughts!

Going a little preorder crazy

I’ve been showing remarkable restraint when it comes to book buying — but no more. I broke down today and pre-ordered three upcoming 2018 releases that I need in my hands NOW. Unfortunately, we all must wait for these… but aren’t they exciting?

First up, Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness – to be released September 25, 2018:

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

AAAAAAAAAH! It’s a new All Souls book! Here’s a bit of synopsis, as shared on Entertainment Weekly:

Harkness’ next novel will be Time’s Convert, EW can exclusively announce, which is set in the same universe as her best-selling All Souls trilogy and takes place in contemporary London and Paris, as well as the American colonies of Revolutionary War times, in its bridging of past and present.

On the battlefields of the American Revolution, Matthew de Clermont meets Marcus MacNeil, a young surgeon from Massachusetts, during a moment of political awakening when it seems that the world is on the brink of a brighter future. When Matthew offers him a chance at immortality and a new life, free from the restraints of his puritanical upbringing, Marcus seizes the opportunity to become a vampire. But his transformation is not an easy one and the ancient traditions and responsibilities of the de Clermont family clash with Marcus’s deeply-held beliefs in liberty, equality, and brotherhood.

The narrative jumps forward to the present, too, in its exploration of vampires and immortality. Overall, Time’s Convert emerges as both a love story and a meditation on tradition and change.

Also in the world of All Souls, there’s a new reference book coming out in May (which I will definitely need before diving into the new novel, unless I decide to do a series reread between now and September):

The World of All Souls: A Complete Guide to A Discover of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life will be released May 8, 2018.

A fully illustrated guide to Deborah Harkness’s #1 New York Times bestselling All Souls trilogy–“an irresistible . . . wonderfully imaginative grown-up fantasy” (People)

A Discovery of Witches introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. Shadow of Night and The Book of Life carried Deborah Harkness’s series to its spellbinding conclusion.

In The World of All Souls, Harkness shares the rich sources of inspiration behind her bewitching novels. She draws together synopses, character bios, maps, recipes, and even the science behind creatures, magic, and alchemy–all with her signature historian’s touch. Bursting with fascinating facts and dazzling artwork, this essential handbook is a must-have for longtime fans and eager newcomers alike.

And finally, my third preorder today — from a completely different fictional world and genre — is an upcoming sequel to Every Day by David Levithan:

Someday will be released October 2, 2018. Click here to read an excerpt via Entertainment Weekly. How excited are we??? (And don’t forget, the movie version of Every Day will be here later this month! )

I almost added a 4th preorder to my cart today, but held back at the last moment:

The Outsider by Stephen King will be released May 22, 2018 — and I definitely plan to read it, but I’m not sure I need to own it. I’ve been burned by King books before. I either love them or fall squarely on “meh”, and if this happens to be a “meh”, I’ll regret having spent money on a hardcover. So as much as I want to read The Outsider, I may just wait and get on my library’s request list. (Or, who knows? I may break down and preorder it yet. May is a long time from now — anything can happen!)

I’m so excited for my preorders! Are any of these on your WANT list?

Funny? Or is it a cultural thing?

I saw a book blurb this week that cracked me up, and my initial reaction was a combination of giggles and a bit of Inigo Montoya (substituting “phrase” for “word”, of course):

Okay, here’s the culprit: I just received a book I ordered in the mail – a guide to the world of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books. So exciting! I’d seen this book in a used bookstore a while back, but when I returned to buy it, it wasn’t there. Thanks to the glory of near-instant gratification via online shopping, I was able to find it from a used book site, et voilà! My book arrived this week.

The book looks amazing, full of info on characters, places, social structures, and more. Check out the table of contents:

Okay, so here’s the cover of the book. Notice the sticker that says “Exclusive at Waterstone’s”? (It was published by London Scholastic in 2007.)

Excuse my messy desk!

So now that my long-winded introduction is out of the way, here’s what cracked me up. Let’s zoom in on the bottom right of the cover, shall we?

Does this have a different meaning in the UK than in the US? Because when I read “I can’t recommend it too highly”, it sounds like a negative to me. “Hmm, it was okay. Not great. I mean, you might feel differently. But for me, I can’t recommend it too highly. Maybe just a little bit.”

Which I’m sure was not Philip Pullman’s intent! I’m assuming it was meant to convey: “This book is amazing. Astonishing. Super-duper-fantastic. There is no amount of superlative recommending I could do that would be too much.” I’ve been known to say things like “wow, I can’t say enough great things about this book!” in a review here or there, and I assume that’s what this blurb is supposed to convey. But to me, it doesn’t.

So what do you think? Am I guilty of misinterpreting? Being too literal? Is it a cultural thing? Or just awkward phrasing, or perhaps a line taken out of context?

Whatever. It made me laugh today, so I guess that’s a good thing.

Reading goals: Series to read in 2018

Another year, another chance to set reading goals… that may or may not be at all realistic. But hey, a reader can dream, right?

I’ve moved away from setting too many reading goals over the years. I don’t participate in reading challenges (other than Goodreads), because I know that I’ll just end up feeling frustrated and resentful if I tailor my reading to a list or set of “requirements”, rather than just reading whatever the hell I feel like. I’m definitely a mood reader — I want to read whatever I want, whenever I want, no deadlines or commitments!

BUT… I do have a few reading goals, chief among which is the desire to dive into several series that I’ve had my eye on for a while now.

In 2018, my priority series to read (or at least start) will be:

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – six books, starting with Old Man’s War:

Lady Julia Grey by Deanna Raybourn – five books and a bunch of novellas, starting with Silent in the Grave:

Question for those who have read this series: What’s the suggested reading approach? Read all the novels first? Are the novellas necessary? Do they come at the end, or in between, or… ?? Help!

Newsflesh by Mira Grant – four novels and assorted shorter works, starting with Feed:

Again, looking for advice on how to proceed: Read the original trilogy, then the story collection, then the 4th novel?

October Daye by Seanan McGuire – 11 books and counting, plus short fiction too, starting with Rosemary and Rue:

Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch – six novels and another on the way, starting with Rivers of London (Midnight Riot):

 

That’s it for my 2018 priority list… but wait, there’s more!

I still have my eye on a bunch of series/trilogies/what-have-you that I intend to read… eventually. Maybe some will make it into my 2018 reading pile, but then again, maybe not. It all depends on my reading mood! My will-get-to-at-some-point list of series includes:

  • Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness
  • Illuminae books by Amie Kaufman
  • Anything/everything by Tamora Pierce (by order of my beloved daughter)
  • The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben H. Winters
  • Wayward Pines books by Blake Crouch
  • Inheritance trilogy and/or Broken Earth series by N. K. Jemisin

I can’t forget to mention that I’m committed to continuing a few ongoing series as well, including:

  • The Expanse series — next up: Cibola Burns (#4)
  • Poldark series — currently on #7 (The Angry Tide), then continuing on with #8 (The Stranger From the Sea)

… and in the “don’t hold your breath” category, it would be lovely to be able to read the next books in the Outlander and A Song of Ice and Fire series, but I’m fairly certain we won’t see either one in 2018!

Are you planning to start any new series this year? If you’ve read any of the series on my “priority” list, let me know what you thought!

Charles Dickens, Serial Reader, and me

First things first, yo:

I FINISHED GREAT EXPECTATIONS!

And as expected, it was great!

For years now, I’ve been saying “one of these days”, I want to read Great Expectations. And it never happened. But why wait for “one of these days”? In the words of Rent:

I finally buckled down a little over a week ago, and decided to use my handy-dandy Serial Reader app. Serial Reader, in case you don’t know, is an awesome app that delivers public domain reading material via daily installments, usually taking no longer than 10 – 15 minutes each to read. (I wrote first wrote about it here, if you want to know more.)

But as it turns out, I’m a pretty impatient reader, and if I’m hooked, I’m hooked, and it’s impossible to put the brakes on. So yes, I started Great Expectations via Serial Reader, and within two days I was reading ahead, getting through 3 – 4 installments each day instead of just one. Still, there are 74 installments in all, and I figured I’d take my leisurely time and enjoy Great Expectations in little bite-sized pieces over the next couple of months.

Wrong.

Apparently, I suck at Serial Reader. I got into the story, and once I was into the story, I abandoned everything else I was reading so I could just keep reading more and more. And while I have a paperback edition of Great Expectations and a Kindle edition, I ended up sticking with Serial Reader all the way through to the end.

(Could it be because of the little words of encouragement and the praise every time I finished an installment? Yes, you’ve got me. I’m a sucker for badges and affirmations.)

In terms of the book itself, there really isn’t any reason for me to write a review of Great Expectations, is there? The plot summary:

Dickens’s magnificent novel of guilt, desire, and redemption: The orphan Pip’s terrifying encounter with an escaped convict on the Kent marshes, and his mysterious summons to the house of Miss Havisham and her cold, beautiful ward Estella, form the prelude to his “great expectations.” How Pip comes into a fortune, what he does with it, and what he discovers through his secret benefactor are the ingredients of his struggle for moral redemption.

I  loved the characters and the setting, and I loved seeing Pip’s development from boyhood to manhood, and his ethical and emotional growth as he understands the wrongs he’s done and seeks ways to improve himself, ultimately realizing that it’s more important to be honest and fair and appreciative than to be a monied gentleman.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read any Dickens (my only previous Dickens being A Tale of Two Cities), and I’d forgotten how delightful his writing is. When we think of classics, we tend to think stuffy and dry and old-fashioned. I was not at all prepared for how funny Charles Dickens is! His writing is so clever, and the way he uses metaphors, physical descriptions of characters, and characters names as tools for making the people and events feel fully-fleshed is pretty amazing.

Oh, those names! The best (as in, more ridiculous) here is Mr. Pumblechook — can’t you just tell from that name that he’s a pretentious fool? Joe is as sweet and simple as his name, and of course a character named Estella is glamorous and unreachable. I couldn’t help loving Mr. Wemmick, who cares for his elderly father and refers to him as “the Aged”. Just fabulous.

In any case, while I didn’t stick with the serial approach, I’m sure I’ll continue to give it a shot for future reading. Now that I’ve read Great Expectations, I really want to expand my Dickens knowledge! A goal might be to read one of his novels per year… admitting now that I’m terrible at sticking to reading goals, but this feels doable and realistic and FUN, so who knows?

 

Meanwhile, I’d really love to check out the 2012 movie vesion of Great Expectations, with Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. How perfect does that sound? Has anyone seen it? Any thoughts to share?

As for my progress with the Serial Reader app, here’s what I’ve used it for so far, in the year since I first gave it a try:

And despite my inability to still to just one installment per day, as the gods of Serial Reader intended, I still find it a really easy and motivating way to get around to reading those big, intimidating books that feel like too big a commitment to start.

Audiobook awesomeness: His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

Over the last two months, I’ve had one of my most delightful experiences with audiobooks. I decided to revisit the world of the His Dark Materials trilogy, since (a) it’s been many, many years since I read the books, and (b) a new book is coming out this fall. (THIS WEEK! NOW!!!)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 17 years (!!) since the publication of The Amber Spyglass, the 3rd book in the trilogy (following The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife). I remember being blown away by these books upon first read, but after all these years, I was fuzzy on the details.

Side note: I choose to disregard the existence of the Golden Compass movie, which utterly failed to capture the essence of the books and characters. But that’s an issue best left in the past…

So what was so special about these audiobooks?

For starters, they’re full-cast recordings. Oddly enough, full-cast audiobooks don’t usually appeal to me. When I’ve tried them before, I tend to feel removed from the story — maybe because it’s more like listening to a dramatization than like reading an actual book.

Whatever the reason, this time around, I just loved it. Philip Pullman takes the role of narrator, and he’s marvelous. His reading of his own work is nuanced and expressive, and he infuses his lines with wit, humor, and when needed, sorrow and intensity. Beyond Pullman himself, the rest of the cast is simply terrific. I don’t know who these voice actors are, but their talent is huge! The voice of Lyra was perfect — young, intense, brave, emotional — and Will was spot-on too, fierce, loving, worried, daring. Probably most magnificent was the voice of Iorek Byrnison — I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a deep, rumbly voice on an audiobook. If a polar bear could speak English and deigned to have a conversation with one of us puny humans, I bet that’s exactly what he’d sound like. Other stand-outs are the voices of Texas aeronaut Lee Scoresby and the often wicked but strangely sympathetic Mrs. Coulter.

Now, if you’ve read these books, you know that an important part of Pullman’s world building is the presence of daemons — a corporeal, animal being who represents each person’s true inner being. Every human in Lyra’s world has a daemon, and the shape they take is often quite representative of the nature of the person. Children’s daemon’s can change shape at will, until they child reaches puberty, at about which time the daemon settles into his or her final shape. Worth noting, too, is that a daemon is always the opposite gender of the person it’s attached to — so Lyra’s daemon Pantalaimon is male. On the audiobooks, the daemons who have speaking roles are voiced in ways completely appropriate to their personalities. The absolute best is Lee’s daemon Hester, a jackrabbit with a feminine Western twang.

As for the story, I’m kind of assuming that anyone bothering to read this post is already familiar with the amazing world of His Dark Materials. For those who aren’t familiar, here are the brief plot summaries from Goodreads:

Book 1 – The Golden Compass (also published under the title Northern Lights):

Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the alethiometer. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved.

Book 2 – The Subtle Knife:

Lost in a new world, Lyra finds Will—a boy on the run, a murderer—a worthy and welcome ally. For this is a world where soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and witches share the skies with troops of angels.

Each is searching—Lyra for the meaning of Dark Matter, Will for his missing father—but what they find instead is a deadly secret, a knife of untold power. And neither Lyra nor Will suspects how tightly their lives, their loves, and their destinies are bound together… until they are split apart.

Book 3 – The Amber Spyglass:

The Amber Spyglass brings the intrigue of The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife to a heart-stopping end, marking the final volume of His Dark Materials as the most powerful of the trilogy.

Along with the return of Lyra, Will, Mrs. Coulter, Lord Asriel, Dr. Mary Malone, and Iorek Byrnison the armored bear, come a host of new characters: the Mulefa, mysterious wheeled creatures with the power to see Dust; Gallivespian Lord Roke, a hand-high spymaster to Lord Asriel; and Metatron, a fierce and mighty angel. So, too, come startling revelations: the painful price Lyra must pay to walk through the land of the dead, the haunting power of Dr. Malone’s amber spyglass, and the names of who will live–and who will die–for love. And all the while, war rages with the Kingdom of Heaven, a brutal battle that–in its shocking outcome–will uncover the secret of Dust. Philip Pullman deftly brings the cliff-hangers and mysteries of His Dark Materials to an earth-shattering conclusion–and confirms his fantasy trilogy as an undoubted and enduring classic.

It’s funny how certain things stick in your mind — or my mind, anyway. I absolutely remembered about Dust and daemons, about Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, the Mulefa, Metatron, and more. What I didn’t remember was the sheer power of this story. What starts out feeling mostly like a children’s book (albeit a children’s book with gifted-level vocabulary) by the end has transformed into an epic tale that shares universal truths about love, honesty, the nature of good and evil, devotion, betrayal, friendship, and freedom.

The emotional impact by the end is enormous. I clearly remembered being devastated by the end of the trilogy, and yet I was still pretty much hit over the head with an anvil all over again while listening by the intensity of the heart-ache the characters experience. It’s simply lovely and tragic and uplifting, all at the same time.

As an added bonus, Pullman later published two shorter works set in the same world: Lyra’s Oxford, which takes place two years after the conclusion of The Amber Spyglass, and Once Upon a Time in the North, which is set about 35 years earlier, showing the first eventful meeting of Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison. Both of these novellas are available as audiobooks, and like the main trilogy, are highly enriched by the full-cast recording. (It’s definitely worth getting the hard copies as well, as the physical editions include wonderful woodcut illustrations and all sorts of bits and pieces of ephemera related to His Dark Materials — writing scraps, maps, ballooning guides, postcards, and even a board game.)

Finally, there’s a short story available either as an e-book or audiobook. The Collectors is very creepy, and I’d say listen to the audio version. Bill Nighy does a fabulous job with the narration, and it only takes about a half hour, but is definitely worth it.

I realize that this is by no means a comprehensive book review of His Dark Materials and the associated works. And it’s not meant to be. Really, I’ve just gotten completely swept away by these wonderful audiobooks, and I couldn’t keep it to myself a moment longer!

Especially for anyone thinking about reading the upcoming new release, La Belle Sauvage, going back to His Dark Materials via audiobook will be a huge treat, absolutely worth the time.

Needless to say, for anyone who hasn’t read these books at all yet, please do! His Dark Materials is one of those trilogies usually shelved with children’s fiction, but which truly transcends the age or genre labels. These books are just plain good fantasy literature; they transport us to multiple alternate worlds but never lose their human heart.

 

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Books in the series:
The Golden Compass (1995)
The Subtle Knife (1997)
The Amber Spyglass (2000)
Lyra’s Oxford (2003)
Once Upon a Time in the North (2008)
The Collectors (2014)
NEW: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust, book 1) – to be released 10/19/2017

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Guest Post: Fantasy Authors – Why You’ll Believe Their Lies

I’m thrilled to welcome Sarah Zama to Bookshelf Fantasies! Thank you, Sarah, for providing this terrific guest post.

FANTASY AUTHORS: WHY YOU’LL BELIEVE THEIR LIES

by Sarah Zama, The Old Shelter (see author bio below)

Tell me. Are you a fantasy reader?

As a fantasy writer (and reader) I often hear readers say  they don’t care for fantasy and prefer to read stories that are realistic.

Let’s talk about it.

What is storytelling?

As Flannery O’Connor said, everybody knows what a story is until they try to write one. Defining storytelling is harder than one would think, but years ago I came across a fascinating definition. It answered the question, what’s the difference between chronicling a true event and telling a story? The chronicle and the story largely adopt the same elements and can even concern themselves with the same events, what then is the difference between the two forms of telling?

Let’s say there is a car accident. A journalist will try to relate events as close as possible to how they happened, trying to replicate the dynamics and the cause-effect evolution, adding all relevant info.

We already have a ‘problem’ here: how does the journalist decide what is relevant? How does she describe events that happened at the same exact time? We have two cars moving towards each another, there are people on both of them, and things are happening inside both cars. How does a journalist decide what to relate out of all this info?

The obvious answer is that she will have to make choices. Choose which event to tell first and which tell later. Choose what details she will actually mention and which she will leave out altogether.

This will colour her account of a personal flavour… and that’s where storytelling begins.

Where a chronicler will try to leave her personal judgment out as much as possible, a storyteller will push it at its utmost consequences, with the goal to give a meaning – a very specific, personal, carefully chosen meaning – to  those events. When recounting that car accident, a storyteller will put special care in choosing who are on board those cars, what they’re doing and where they’re going. She will carefully decide what events she will tell first and what later and how they will intertwine, the chain of events and their timings, she will decide whether and how to tell the impact that accident will have on those people. And her goal won’t be to just recount how the accident happened, but it will be a carefully chosen message about something she thinks it’s important for her and for her readers.

Storytellers make choices all the time and every choice intentionally lends a meaning to the story.

So we could say that while chronicles try to manipulate events as little as possible to present them ‘how they happened’, stories intentionally manipulate events with the specific goal, the specific purpose to send out a chosen ‘message’. Where the point of the chronicle is the events, the point of the story is the message, or if you prefer, the theme.

 

Mimic and fantasy stories

Stories are generally divided into two big categories:

  • Mimetic stories which mimic life as closely as possible. They may be based on actual facts, but even when they aren’t, they depict the world, people and the workings of life as we are accustomed to see them play out every day around us
  • Fantasy stories which adopt elements who aren’t experienced in our everyday life. These fantasy elements may range from slight deviations from what we know (magic realism) to full-fledged reimagined worlds that look like nothing we’ve ever or would ever experience (high fantasy)

Readers and writers familiar with one realm are normally very hesitant to wander over to the other realm because they think they won’t fit in. Readers of mimetic fiction, in particular, think that what a fantasy story would ask them to believe is really too weird and unrealistic and so they will be unable to immerse themselves in the story the way they like to do.

 

Why would I suspend my disbelief?

Now, dear reader, be honest with me. You don’t believe for a moment that the novels you read are in any way true. They may be ‘realistic’ but they aren’t true. Beside, the fact that they are realistic is the important factor, because if they are, you can happily pretend they are as good as true and you can pretend that you can be part of that story.

This is a specific phenomenon called suspension of disbelief.

The term and concept  of suspension of disbelief was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817, and refers to readers’ willingness to accept the story as it is, even when they recognise elements that challenge reality as they know it. Since Coleridge was a Romantic (by this I mean he was a member of the Romantic movement), he referred specifically to any fantasy elements present in the story. Since then, the concept has taken up a larger meaning encompassing the totality of storytelling.

The core concept is that authors can employ any element in their story, unlikely as it may be (being it fantastic creatures or very daring chains of coincidences) and the reader will accept it as long as the author makes it plausible.

Prof. J.R.R. Tolkien went even further. He theorized that an author needs to be able to create a fictional world that not necessarily adheres to reality (he was after all talking about true speculative/fantasy fiction), but that works in the same way reality does. This ‘secondary reality’ may be very different from reality as we know it, but the rules that governs it must be as stringent and logic as those governing our real world. It must have the ‘intimate consistency of reality’, no matter what it looks like on the outside. It must be plausible in that context. At that point, the author won’t even need to ask readers to suspend their disbelief, because given the rules that govern that secondary reality, the readers will accept this is exactly how that reality should work.

Along these lines, Prof. Rosalba Campra went as far as saying that all stories with a perfectly functioning secondary reality should be considered realistic whether they have fantasy elements (like Middle Earth) or not.

Have I messed up your ideas well enough? Good!

Now tell me, why would you suspend your disbelief in regard to any story? Well, as a reader, I have an answer: because – as it’s for storytellers – when we read fiction we are more concerned with themes then events. If events sustain the theme convincingly and plausibly, then we are willing to play along even if the element is in itself unlikely. If the story is worthwhile in terms of themes and involvement, if it enriches us as persons, then we are willing to believe the lie.

Why then, some readers think that fantasy is more a lie than any other story? Why some readers think that ‘it doesn’t exist, it’s not realistic, so it can’t give me any worthwhile experience.’

As a writer of fantasy stories, I often wonder: is the appearance of the story really so important to obscure its theme?

 

Commissar Montalbano: a case study

Ragusa Ibla (main setting for Il Commissario Montalbano)

Years ago I read an interview with Italian mystery novelist Andrea Camilleri about his acclaimed series Il commissario Montalbano. If you are unfamiliar with it, this is a series of mystery novels set in Sicily, Camilleri’s homeland. Salvo Montalbano is a police detective who investigates murders in his little town, Vigata, following Italian police procedures… if sometimes interpreting them in his personal way, and juggling himself between strict magistrates, shadowy mafiosi, young ambitious entrepreneurs projected in the future and old Sicilians living the traditional way and only speaking dialect. The novels themselves are written in a mix of Italian and Vigata dialect.

All perfectly mimetic, wouldn’t you say? Especially if you think that the Siclianity radiates from every little element of Camilleri’s stories and he has often been praised for how vividly his stories depict the reality of Sicilian life.

So let me tell you that Vigata doesn’t exist. Montelusa, the province to which Vigata depends, also doesn’t exist. And even the dialect the novels are partly written in doesn’t exist.

Camilleri made it all up, just like Tolkien made up the Shire, in Middle Earth, and all its languages. Vigata works perfectly well and it sounds like reality because it mimics it so well and so close that readers are deceived into believing it is reality itself, when in fact it’s a very well crafted secondary reality, just like The Shire.

But there’s more. What I find particularly interesting is why Camilleri decided for a fictional place. He initially wanted to set his stories in an actual place, Porto Empedocle (which is indeed the set of the tv series), but because he knew from the beginning that he wanted to write a series of novels all set there, he quickly realised the murder rate of this town would soon exceed the actual murder rate of Porto Empedocle by far.

He could have played along anyway, pressing on the readers’ suspension of disbelief, ignoring that if that murder rate turned up in Porto Empedocle in real life, it would cause all kinds of political and social alarm. Or he could create a completely fictional place, although recognizably Sicilian, where he would be free to create his own custom made reality where he could decide whatever was best for the stories and their themes.

So yes, Camilleri created a fantasy reality so to make his stories more realistic. Although not true, Vigata does have the intimate consistency of reality more than Porto Empedocle would have had.

 

So tell me. Are you a fantasy reader?

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About the author:

Sarah Zama was born in Isola della scala (Verona – Italy) where she still lives. She started writing at nine – blame it over her teacher’s effort to turn her students into readers – and in the 1990s she contributed steadily to magazines and independent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.

After a pause, in early 2010s she went back to writing with a new mindset. The internet allowed her to get in touch with fellow authors around the globe, hone her writing techniques in online workshops and finally find her home in the dieselpunk community.

Since 2010 she’s been working at a trilogy set in Chicago in 1926, historically as accurate as possible but also (as all her stories are) definitely fantasy. She’s currently seeking representation for the first book in the Ghost Trilogy, Ghostly Smell Around.

Her first book, Give in to the Feeling, came out in 2016.

She’s worked for QuiEdit, publisher and bookseller in Verona, for the last ten years.
She also maintain a blog, The Old Shelter, where she regularly blogs about the Roaring Twenties and anything dieselpunk.

CONTACT INFO AND LINKS

Email: oldshelter@yahoo.com
Blog: www.theoldshelter.com
Websitehttp://sarahzama.theoldshelter.com/